You have chosen a rewarding career by providing assistance to someone which will enable them to live a fuller and more independent lifestyle.
Disabled people can now recruit a Personal Assistant (you!) independently, because the Government have introduced Personal Budgets, which basically means rather than receiving traditionally funded social care services within their home, the person is now offered the equivalent in cash to buy in their own care and support. The person has more freedom to build the life they truly want, which in turn means there is a greater focus on lifestyle support and that's where you come in!
It's not just about having help to get up and about in the morning anymore, a hot meal prepared or the vacuum cleaner run around, although of course these are vital for some people. The focus is on what the individual really wants and needs to build a meaningful lifestyle. Clearly the money available is not endless, so trekking the Alps and canoeing down the Indus River may be out, but the scope is now greater for the more fun things in life, as it has finally been recognised that a happy and productive lifestyle does not just mean an existence with basic requirements met, but actually living and experiencing different activities that our local communities can offer.
This can involve but not be limited to, household chores and tasks, voluntary work placements, sports and hobbies and trips out. You may find yourself assisting the person you work for to go to the cinema, get fit at the gym, do a few lengths in the pool or have a Friday night down the local! Every role is different and often every day is varied.
Here are a few things to think about as you commence your role as a PA
It can be easy to forget that the person you work for is your employer, especially a few months down the line when you have got to know each other and hopefully, get on really well. You may not necessarily have a great deal of experience as a PA, and the person you are working for may also have minimal experience as an employer. It's a big learning curve for everyone and some 'give & take' needs to occur.
Don't be afraid to ask to ascertain if you have done something right, or ask if your employer would prefer it done another way. If you are unhappy with anything, don't let it fester, ask your employer if they would mind having a chat at the end of your shift to discuss any concerns you may have.
If your job is full time, consider whether you are happy to work for one person, who may have specific needs and a particular way of wanting things done. Can you handle that or might it be easier if you worked for more than one employer, three part time jobs for example, as opposed to one which is full time?
As an employee, you have statutory rights and as an absolute minimum are entitled to:
Your rights under the Working time Directive - You do not have to work an average of more than 48 hours per week, unless you give your voluntary consent in writing. You must also be provided with correct daily and weekly rest periods. This means you are allowed:
For young people (under 18) the maximum working week is 40 hours, other than in exceptional circumstances. These hours may not be averaged out and there is no opt-out available.
If you employ someone in this age group you must also give them a break of 30 minutes every four and a half hours work
Don't be late for work or expect to leave early. Your job may feel as if it's carried out in more of a 'casual employment' style (lucky you!) by working in this kind of way and in a persons home, but this is still paid employment and you are bound by the terms of your contract. Expect to be accountable as you would be in any other form of paid employment.
Works both ways, for you and your employer. By the very nature of their disability and / or health condition, disabled people are often referred to as 'vulnerable', a term disliked by many Disabled People's Organisations such as Disability Cornwall. Having said that, it's clear disabilities and health conditions can pose restrictions on a person's ability to defend themselves if faced with an abusive situation. The horrific and relatively recent Winterbourne View scandal caused national news headlines, but abuse doesn't just occur in residential settings, it can also happen in people's homes.
Abuse is not just about being hit or slapped (physical abuse) it can be sexual or caused by neglect, such as a woman unable to mobilise and left in her wheelchair for hours by her abusive husband. It can be emotional and caused by rudeness, name calling and a lack of respect. Abuse can be financial, where a Personal Assistant is trusted with money to buy a few things at the shop but keeps some of the change, (You can protect yourself here by always obtaining receipts for your employer.) Less obvious, but equally distressing, is abuse caused by discrimination, isolation or the misuse of medications.
It is also possible for Carers and Personal Assistants to suffer abuse. This could occur if the person you care for has needs which suddenly become more intensive, their behaviour more challenging or aggressive, or if they actually reject offers of support.
Never tolerate abuse, whether it is perpetrated towards you or your employer. Always tell someone including the Police if somebody is facing an imminent threat of harm. Call Disability Cornwall's DIAL service, our telephone information advice line, if you need any further advice or support. It's open Mon – Fri from 10am to 3pm. If the lines are busy, please do leave a message. We aim to return all calls within one working day.
Will you be using any specific equipment and are you trained in its use? Will you have to lift anything or anybody? Do you know how to lift safely and what the basic techniques are to employ? Your employer can check our self help guide on Kinetic Lifting Techniques. Have you ever undergone any form of health & safety training? It's something which is always good to have on your CV and if you haven't, consider speaking to your employer about this and any further training needs you may have.
Cornwall Council's Adult Social Care Learning Partnership provide an extensive range of training courses in health and social care and related areas, with different options of how to learn and access them such as e-learning.
T: 01872 323625
Some people can feel quite intimidated when speaking to a disabled person, but there is no need to be one of them. Remember 'normal' is just a setting on a washing machine and we all present with differences! Take time to listen and treat your employer with the respect they deserve.
Never lean on a wheelchair or attempt to push one without being asked. Position yourself at eye level if in conversation with a wheelchair user. If your employer, or another person you come into contact with has a speech impairment, you may not understand every word to start with. Gently ask for it to be repeated and rest assured it won't take too long for this to improve.
Hopefully there will never be a need for your employer to feel stuck for things to do and places to visit, especially if you read our lifestyle magazine, Discover, or take a look at the Disability Cornwall website. There you'll find 'My Place', a database of accessible places to visit that could prove really useful to you in your role. If your employer wants to visit a National Trust house, a leisure centre, tourist attraction or even a beach, you can see if there are any suitably recommended places to visit in My Place. Why not upload the places you have visited yourselves, which are accessible and share the information with others?
Many places offer 'carer concessions' such as the National Trust who also provide a free 'Access for All' card, specifically for the carer / companion of anybody who uses a wheelchair to visit one of their sites or properties.
If you cannot access somewhere you want to visit when out with your employer, hopefully you will both be confident enough to politely, but firmly, ask the service provider when will they be making it accessible.
You may like to zip around the country lanes, but does your employer appreciate swaying from side to side? Be considerate and check with them if your driving makes them feel both safe and comfortable.
If you are driving your employer in your own car, does your insurance cover you? Generally you will need Class 1 business use, but make sure and speak to your insurer.
At Disability Cornwall we think it could be very helpful for PA's to have ways of mutually supporting each other and sharing issues of concern etc. We aim to build a chat forum facility into the PA Register so you can communicate with each other online. But we also think setting up a Support Group, where you will be able to meet other PAs could be equally useful.
Disability Cornwall wants to develop PA support groups across the county with the first one starting at our offices in Hayle. Please email and let us know if you would like to attend.
If you ever have an issue during your employment which you are unable to resolve with your employer, and none of the self help guides in the PA Register can assist you, then there are other organisations that can help. We can recommend:
T: 08457 474747 Open Mon – Fri from 8am – 8pm. Sat 9am – 1pm
T: 0800 9172368
A government website with a wealth of information on all employment related issues.